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Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson is the NFL’s premier ball-hawk since entering the league

Related: 5 winners and 2 losers from the Patriots’ 23-17 victory over the Ravens

Cleveland Browns v New England Patriots Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Lamar Jackson tried to test him late in the second quarter, but J.C. Jackson did not flinch. The third-year cornerback, who was again serving as the New England Patriots’ number one with Stephon Gilmore out, out-positioned Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown and was able to pick the reigning league MVP’s pass attempt off — ending a potential scoring opportunity right before the half in a game that was decided by just six points.

Jackson’s interception was his sixth of the season, and franchise record fifth in as many games since the Patriots returned from their Week 5 bye. The former undrafted free agent has grown from a former draft day afterthought into one of the NFL’s premier ball-hawks. Well, actually, he is the NFL’s premier ball-hawk.

Since Jackson entered the league as a rookie free agent back in 2018, no other player has intercepted as many passes as his 14. He picked off three as a rookie, five more in 2019, and is at six and counting so far in his third year with the Patriots. No other player in the NFL has intercepted more than 13 passes over that same time, with Jackson’s closest teammate, the aforementioned Stephon Gilmore, checking in at 11.

Needless to say that the soon-to-be 25-year-old is doing something right. But when asked about his secret to success in the aftermath of Sunday’s win over the Ravens, he didn’t get all too technical.

“That’s a tough question, Jackson said. “I mean, I’m a playmaker, man. I know how to play the ball pretty well. I feel like I become the receiver. When I go up for the ball, I become the receiver and I make a play on the ball every chance I get.”

Jackson has gotten his fair share of chances through the years. With Gilmore on the other side oftentimes locking down teams’ top pass catchers, teams have decided it would be better to test the former undrafted free agent. The results speak for themselves, as he has repeatedly been able to take advantage of his matchups and the opportunities they brought — something that even continued after Gilmore suffered a knee injury in practice.

With the Defensive Player of the Year out for the last three games, Jackson has taken over the top spot in New England’s secondary. The spotlight was not too bright for him, despite a) some challenging matchups, and b) some up-and-down play against the New York Jets last Monday night. Eventually, however, he did what he always seems to do: come through with a key takeaway at a rate that the organization has not seen before.

“I’m just happy to be able to accomplish that,” said Jackson on Sunday. “But when I’m done playing, I’ll look at all the records and stuff like that. But I’m just proud of my team, the way we came out and competed and won. ... We played complementary football, which Coach always talks about. The offense had a great game. I feel like as a team, we all played good football, offensively and defensively. We didn’t give up any big plays, the offense didn’t have any turnovers and we came out with the ‘W.’”

The Patriots are not the organization to put individual accomplishments over team success, but it is hard not to notice the impact that Jackson and his interceptions are having on the latter.

“I tell Jerald all the time, to me, in my mind, he’s a number one corner. That’s what his ability, that’s what his potential is,” teammate Jason McCourty said about Jackson earlier this month. “This is just Year Three for him. The guy’s already in double-digit interceptions, and he hasn’t even played 100 percent of the playing time on our defense. His playmaking ability, his ability to cover guys up, he can be one of the best in this league.”

Jackson appears to be on a good way towards that status mentioned by McCourty — something the Ravens found out first-hand on Sunday night.